The City Sun, July 15‑21, 1987
An Open Letter on the Goetz Trial
As public defenders, we represent clients who overwhelmingly are young Black and Latino men. From this perspective, we express our outrage with the Goetz decision and with the atmosphere of pervasive racism that permeated the entire case from the time of the Goetz arrest until now.
The verdict endorses Goetz’s view that young Black men asking for money in the subway—without uttering any threats or displaying a single weapon—are by definition committing a crime. It also endorses Goetz’s position as self‑appointed executioner, as evidenced by his statement to Darrell Cabey, “You seem to be all right, here is another.”
The undeniable message of the case reinforces the fact that white civilians can join white police in legally murdering Black people—Michael Stewart, Eleanor Bumpurs, Jonah Perry, Nicholas Bartlett and so many others—they perceive as a threat Vigilante terror against Black people is once again encouraged in New York.
More importantly, the jury did not act alone. Rather, the decision was preordained by the media and criminal “justice” system. It was led by the prosecution, which tried to throw the case in the grand jury and by the trial judge, who initially dismissed the charges. They worked hand in hand with the defense to put the victims, Cabey, James Ramseur, Barry Allen and Troy Canty, on trial, thereby shifting attention away from Goetz’s attempt to murder them.
The media and criminal “justice” system painted Goetz as a white knight and his victims as “Black scum” who got what they deserved. The jury simply did what it was programmed to do.
As public defenders, it is clear that there was a disparity in treatment between “defendant” Goetz and our own clients.
For example, in our experience judges almost never permit on‑the‑scene or in‑court “crime re‑enactments,” not to mention using Guardian Angels to stage these spectacles. Nor do judges ever give jury instructions so favorable to the defendant that a client’s acquittal is inevitable, even in the face of evidence overwhelmingly in the defendant’s favor. In addition, Judge Crane’s contempt citation of James Ramseur in the presence of the jury, while surrounded by five court officers, biased the jury against the victims.
In our experience, the prosecution almost always gives all of its witnesses immunity to testify. As a tactical matter, it is rare that a prosecutor would put on a witness who is likely to sabotage the prosecution’s case.
Yet, in the Goetz case, we saw these and other such actions which do not occur when the defendants are Black or Latino.
We urge all New Yorkers to join us in condemning this all too predictable verdict and the racism it represents.
(The signers of this letter are attorneys and legal workers at the Legal Aid Society. We speak here only for ourselves and not for the Legal Aid Society.)
Julie A. Clark • Michael Letwin • Kimberly L. Detherage • Sharon Buckle • Robin Kuranko • Daniel Ashworth • Florence Morgan • Robert Zuss • LeRoi Gill • Carmen James • Calvin Simons • Robert Ellis • Ellen S. Sacks • Jane Coleman • Ruby Green • Tony Powell • Trilby DeJung • Eric Meggett • Luce Rocque • Valerie Greene • Betsy Barros • Derrick Jones • Joseph Licitra • Catharine Grad • Steven Lubowitz